I was lucky enough to interview Todd Stashwick (who plays Theodore Deacon) regarding his role on SyFy’s 12 Monkeys, and the amazing second season. If you haven’t caught up through episode seven tonight, just know there will be some minor spoilers! With that note, onto the interview!
WNA: Just to start out with, one of the things I feel about Deacon more than anything is that he’s kind of our main representation of the future. One of my favorite quotes, was his statement that, “what is the point of saving the future if you can’t survive in it?” That entire episode I think really gave the viewers some insight into Deacon that we may have been missing prior. Are we going to learn a little bit more about Deacon and how he became how he is and how he became the leader of the West VII?
Todd: Without spoiling anything, I think viewers are probably going to get deeper into Deacon’s motivations and what makes him tick, along with his connection to Cole and Cassie. You’re going to get glimpses; as far as revealing more specifics, about the West VII (about which Terry [The Showrunner] and I have talked about) I’m not sure–let me just say we’ve got a lot of ground to cover between now and the end of this season. But you do actually get to see even more of what makes Deacon tick and more of his motivations, and deeper into his other sides.
WNA: So regarding his backstory, you said you’ve talked to Terry about it. So does this mean you basically have a good skeleton of who he is now? He’s given you a good idea of Deacon’s past?
Todd: As an actor we do our due diligence; there’s only so much on the page, so you try to flesh stuff out. So at the beginning of season two I created a ton of backstory for him and then worked together with Terry on how much of that backstory made sense for the show, how much of it we could reveal, how it motivates him, and so forth. We did actually incorporate quite a few things into this season from the stuff that was generated. It’s a big jump, because between season one and season two, he went from primarily an antagonist to something else entirely.
Todd: But even back then, there is a moment with Cole [in season 1] where he is sharing a whiskey with him where he says there are only so many people who are willing to do what it takes to survive, and there aren’t a lot of us left. That was a lot of what he saw in Cole last season. That really helped shape Cole; he was pretty brutal in his approach, while Cassie was the compassionate one, and that has obviously flip flopped in season two. You see Deacon’s effect on both of them, with that world view. He says to Cassie, somebody has to make the hard calls around here, and Cassie has certainly been willing to make some harder calls this season. There is also the situation with Ramse and Cole setting me [Deacon] up. They were making a hard call–and that’s why he is kinda proud of them. They were finally stepping up to survive.
WNA: So do you think he’s truly come to an understanding with Cole? It is amazing he even survived that–I thought we really had lost Deacon in that moment; him coming back was a bit of a shock.
Todd: It was pretty stunning. The interesting thing, also, is that we [the writers/Todd] talked about how this might not be the worst thing Deacon’s ever seen/dealt with. I think the interesting thing about the guy is that he’s smarter than he lets people believe. That being said I did work out with the stunt guys how Deacon could conceivably would have gotten out of that situation. I actually, in my head, walked through it, and had them choreograph it as well–what he would have had to do in order to survive two guys with guns and one guy with knives–and one guy who is like seven foot tall [laughs]. How could he have survived that? So we actually logically figured it out.
WNA: Could you explain that process a bit more?
Todd: I had to make it realistic for myself. A lot of what we do as actors is to creatively visualize things that aren’t represented on screen so that you know what you’re bringing with you into that scene. What memories your character has, what experiences they have walking into any situation, etc. Those experiences are going to affect your behavior, your relationships, and the content of what happens in any given scene. So I had to know for myself, how could this guy have survived? Oh yes, we did carefully walk through it. I mapped it and ran it by the stunt coordinator–‘could this happen, would this work, would that make sense’, so we all made it make perfect sense so it wasn’t just a ‘brady bunch’ moment, where they are just like, ‘ta da!’, and suddenly everything’s just better. I needed to know for myself. I think on some level it’s better to not have shown it. It makes you go…’what happened??’ But it definitely wasn’t an easy fight.
WNA: A couple of my other readers on my site have expressed to me how much they’ve grown to love Deacon as the show has gone on this season [and I’m included in that]. I think the show has done a very good job of humanizing him and I think some of that has come through his relationship with Cassie. We see flashes of it on the show, but a lot of it seems to have been left unsaid. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about his relationship with Cassie and your opinions on tonight’s episode. He mentions that he would not be able to make the hard decision when it came to Cassie, and I thought that was very interesting, as he’s always someone who’s been able to make the hard decisions.
Todd: We actually talked about this a little bit with the writers, and a lot of people think Deacon was softened by Cassie. I’m not sure if that’s the case, actually. We haven’t seen him deal with someone like Cassie–he hasn’t had to, in what experiences we’ve seen of him. He’s a human being, so he’s capable of all the sides of being a human being, but because we now have a different person in the mix of his story, it’s going to reveal different aspects of him. He absolutely has a special connection to Cassie, we will learn about that, deeper in the season.
Todd: In many ways, maybe, yeah she’s a bit of an Achilles heel for him, in his unwillingness to take a hard call in her situation, and his unwillingness does set off a bit of a chain reaction in his life, which will come to play deeper into the story. It shakes up his world in a way that is not expected. It is always fascinating to me to see what happens, because when they chose to pull Deacon into season two he couldn’t be one thing anymore. He couldn’t just be the snarky sociopath. When he’s in the entire season, if I was playing the same two notes over and over again, that wouldn’t be a human being, that would be a caricature. He’s a survivor and an opportunist, but at the same time he’s a person, so the choices he makes change. For example, early on, he backed the Messengers–that was part opportunist, part survival. Then when he realizes that their plan does not serve his best interests he switches sides– but in the switching of sides he runs into people he hasn’t dealt with before. He deals with Jones, he deals with Whitley more, he deals with Cole and Ramse more, and Cassie, definitely. She has a profound effect on him. Absolutely.
WNA: Coming into the group this season, it’s clear that Deaon is the outsider, but I view him as someone whose motivations may not be necessarily pure, but he does genuinely seem to care about people in his group, and he tries to do things for the good of the group. Could you talk about his motivations a bit?
Todd: My question to you is, define pure? I think his motivations are pure as anybody’s. He has no ulterior motives.
WNA: I think he’s very honest and he’s one of the few people on the show who is willing to be honest about what he’s doing and I think that’s a great thing to have on the show. He’s very upfront about what he’s doing and why he does it.
Todd: He is blunt; he is a blunt instrument. I think his motivations are always pure. He’s never hiding what he wants and why he wants it. He’s never hiding that–his motivations are clear as a bell. I would say he’s self serving but he’s not selfish. Along with the West VII–when you first met him, the guy’s motivation is to keep 200 people alive. That is not a selfish motivation! His methods are questionable. His delight in brutality is obviously undesirable, but it sure is entertaining to watch. He also has a sense of humor about all of it; that’s the rubber band that snapped in his head along the way. He knows that this entire situation is absurd–I [Deacon] remember what it was like before now and now it is an absolute catastrophe. If you can’t laugh at that, just put a bullet in your head right now.
WNA: That’s one of the other things that I love about his character is that he’s really become one of the best vehicles for comedy. You’ve got some of the best comedic lines. You have great comedic timing with Michael Hogan this episode as well, and some of the best lines of the season.
Todd: Working with Michael Hogan was great because I’m a Battlestar Galactica fanboy so getting to work with him was a bit of a ‘bucket list’ moment. Then to take the guy who is the hippie-groovy-pacifist and put him up against the most brutal guy in the facility…it was just ripe for comedy. We certainly leaned into it.
WNA: I’ve really enjoyed watching Deacon grow, and while Cassie’s grown in a lot of ways that have been troubling for some people I feel Deacon has been allowed to breathe and become more complex. How does it feel to be a part of an ensemble piece like this where you can be allowed to grow a character like this?
Todd: I’d say without a doubt that the arc of the guy who started season two and the guy who finishes season two is profound. It is a massive arc. I think there’s something really unique about the show that could take a peripheral character who was somewhat of an antagonist and take the time to allow the audience to get to know him–to love him, to hate him, to laugh at him, be scared of him, sympathize with him–all of the above…and we do it all in these 13 episodes. He’s still not the primary focus of the show, and yet there is all this attention to detail, and the room that they gave me as a performer to explore these things is amazing. The collaboration is unbelievable, and I will always say that my only job on the show is to tend the ‘Deacon Garden’, so when there were moments and opportunities to add something, like a line that would give even more of a glimpse into who he is, and they [the writers] were absolutely in support of that, and loved the fact that we all would bring additional things to the table and they completely respected and supported it.
WNA: That’s amazing, because not all shows allow that. I think it really really shows how much 12 Monkeys is a collaborative work between everyone. I think it really shows the passion between all the actors and the writers. This show is truly a love letter to scifi and the viewers.
Todd: I think it’s [the show] going to be one of those underground fires where suddenly, once the smoke reaches the surface, everyone will go, ‘wow, where have I been?’ and it will be a brush fire at that point.
WNA: To get into the future, can you let us know if Deacon and Jennifer are going to meet?
Todd: Jennifer is so interesting when compared to Deacon– is a counterpart to him; she represents the other fly in the ointment. But I would love to tell you if they are going to meet or not, but let’s just say, there’s strange things afoot at the Circle K…
All Hail the ScavKing, and to find out what Deacon gets up to next time, tune into the next episode 12 Monkeys, every Monday at 9/8c on SyFy!